Monday, August 17, 2009

Community and Art

Greetings Everyone!

So glad I was able to make the conference call (sorry if some of the noise from strike filtered in through the phone, but we had just finished our last show). As was pointed out in the call, I have literally been "living my art"--serving as the musical director for a Children's Theater's production of "The Music Man" with 57 kids. I was there for auditions before residency, and jumped into week 2 of rehearsals as soon as I got home.

My reading therefore was crammed in between rehearsals (or at any moment when they weren't needing music), but I too was questioning the issue of "how does theater fit into all this?" I also, as I mentioned in the phone call, was wondering how "Participation" fit into the insider/outsider discussion. There were some areas that made sense--like the essay on teaching people to dance to African-American pop music--but other times I was very confused by the readings. It also seemed very urban-directed. I live in a VERY rural area, where things just work differently. (Not sure how to express that better)

The conference call, however, was helpful. It was nice to hear everyone's voices again and how you all were doing and your many projects. And during that call we talked a bit about community (which, interestingly, isn't really discussed by name in the book). Here, in rural areas, community is important because it literally brings people from their own little corners of the woods together for social interaction. For "The Music Man," one of my tasks was to put together a pit orchestra. Well, there isn't an area orchestra I can just invite over to play with us...I have to create one. So I spend literally weeks and weeks calling every musician I know (and everyone they know, and the next person knows, etc.) to find people in the area (who can read music and play well enough) who have the time and interest to play for the children's theater. This year, we had 8 instruments (piano, flute, clarinet, violin, trumpet, trombone, bass, and percussion), and six rehearsals before the show opened. While some of these people are repeat performers from other shows, many were new and had never met the other players. The score is very demanding, with over 60 pieces of music in it, and somehow in six rehearsals this motly band of musicians from high schoolers to band teachers to retirees (one of whom is nearly deaf) forms into a close-knit community with me as the facilitator and director (yes, I really do use a baton!). It's really an amazing process.

Working with the pit orchestra (and 57 kids in the cast!) was a very intense experience. But it always amazes me the outpour of community support that makes these summer productions possible--and the community that forms and then disbands around the theater for these productions. Talk about participation!

My other community activity that I wanted to share is perhaps closer to what was being discussed in "Patricipation." Every Saturday from 8:00 to noon, I work the farmer's market in Cable (a tiny little artsy town about a half hour away). The more I read in "Participation," the more I realized that my presence at the farmer's market was a community involved art piece (as well as a financial arrangement for our farm goods). I'm the first stand off the road, so that means I become the market greeter as well as vendor, welcoming community members and tourists to this community event that celebrates local growers and artists. Sometimes I sing or play music with other visiting artsts, tell stories (especially about our farm), introduce people to Cable's local flavor, give directions (how do I get to?...), and get to know the kinds of people in this community...their food loves...their little ficklenesses over price or color or whatever. You really get to know people at an interesting level, working a farmer's market, and my goodness how they miss you when you're not there! (like when I was gone for residency). So I guess that makes me part of their community too. It also ties into the art as experiment idea that JuPong mentioned. Like--hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I put the snoods on this side of the table and the jams on that side today--and then see how people respond.

I'd like to hear what some of your thoughts are on community and how it impacts your work. I know it may be different, because many of you work in urban areas. Good to talk with you all, keep up the studying. :)


  1. Hi Laura,

    I loved reading your entry. I was really able to connect and identify with the work you are doing in rural WI.

    I constantly live my non-corporate America existence doing theatre (as we've discussed at length in the past) - primarily community theatre, I know exactly what the struggles are that you face.

    I am all too familiar with the foibles of the rehearsal process - sometimes the lack of support, the constant feeding of egos - but most importantly the amazing collective energy and community that s formed around these projects.

    Yes, it is a little different because I live in suburbia, not too far from the city. But I also think we encounter a lot of the same kinds of barriers.

    I feel that community theatre is one of the richest and most beneficial facets of our theatrical endeavors. It takes an art (where we may have more exposure and training in than others) and afford us to create with people of walks of life.

    We have the ability to shape people, learn new techniques, and experience the diverseness of our local community. How exciting!

    I can only imagine the struggles you come across with trying to get everyone connected in such a remote area- however, it works out (doesn't it?).

    Isn't the power of the arts amazing! You can rehearse six times before opening and have a fantastic band ad show!

    I think this is because of the connection and heart we share for this art form!

    I applaud you for giving this kids such an amazing experience and putting all of your energies into a project hat I am sure effected your community in ways beyond all possible expectations!

    I'm o glad to hear of this and hope to hear more as your many projects develop.

    Take good care!


  2. Thanks Fran!

    Yes, you're right. While things are different, we are still encountering many of the same struggles and triumphs (the more I read history, the more this becomes apparent across time as well). I think that, while theater isn't the only way, it is an amazing way to create a space for people to explore themselves and life/cultural issues.

    This is the musical, remember, that had the deragatory Native American scene. *cringe* The one I was finally able to have them change the day before coming to residency. We ended up doing a Betsy Ross motif, and I didn't hear anyone complain about the lack of the "Indian scene." Sadly, however, the Ojibwa girl who came to auditions never came to would have made the cultural conversation more interesting, surely.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful commentary. :)

  3. Hi Laura,

    I think the Music Man is a great theatre piece to do in many different community settings. My son played the "Mayor" in his 5th grade school play. they did a great job. Without community theatre, I think there would be a huge separation from community and artistic experiences. Community theatre brings "artlike" art and bridges the experience, pleasure and brings eople together whether in an urban or rural setting. I believe Community theatre is very important in our culture and communities for many reasons: one being that it brings people together from all walks of life.

    There were about 60 kids in my sons school production of The Music Man. The kids were beaming from ear to ear. How satisfying to see this kind of participation!!!
    My favorite outting is going to the farmer's market. There are so many now!!! I think it's a beautiful connection of the arts, food and soulful living. Laura, I think there is a piece waited to be created in your connection with farming and art. How welcoming to have your voice as one enters the market. Going to the market and seeing performance, looking at art, and participating in some form of creation is needed in healing and coming back to the heart. Thats just my opinion:) There is a farmers market in NYC, Union Square Green Market. Look it up on line see what you think about an urban market. Farmers from all over come and participate in the art of good living.
    Take care,

  4. Laura, I agree with Nancy about the piece on farming and art waiting to be created. When you wrote about welcoming the visitors to the farmers market, I could feel your joy and hear your voice. I would like to hear an of you audiotape with your greeting.

    Recently I organized an Art on the Farm exhibit at Brooks Farm in New Paltz, NY. the CSA members enjoyed this visual feast. Nourishment comes in many forms.

  5. Thanks everyone for your thoughtful remarks! You know, Gale made a comment last semester about how my earth-centered life iterweaves with my art practice and that I should explore that more. Good point! I should and I will. :)

    About hearing an audio of my market greeting. :) You know, it isn't the same without the people there (it's like theater with an audience or theater in rehearsal...). But I suppose it wouldn't be fair to the general public to have a recording device at the market. Hmmm, I'll have to think of that one. See, at the market it's really all improv, because you're reflecting and responding from the people who come. I'm trying to think of one that may come out more often than others.

    L--"Good morning ladies. Lots of tasty yummies today. I also have blueberry pies today, blueberries from Bayfield."

    (customer asks were our items come from)

    We have a commercial kitchen on our farm, we make everything from strach, and use lots of organic ingredients. Our farm is about 20 miles east of Hayward, by Moose Lake. Would you like a bag? Zucchinis are a dollar a pound today, so just pick out whatever you'd like and I'll weigh it for you. The muffins were made just this morning.

    Is this your coffee sir? Good, sometimes people leave their coffee at the stand, and I have to go chasing after them! *laughs* Bars are a dollar fifty, and those are fugdy oat bars. We also have frosted banana chocolate chip bars over here.

    My sister is the baking extravaganzress, it's my job to find homes for everything! Oh, here, I can hold that for you. The whole wheat bread is kneaded by hand. It has ground apples in it to keep it moist. Comany coming? Would you like to see the blueberry pies we made last night? They came out of the over at midnight.

    Those are called 'snoods' they're beaded hair nets. I crochette them myself with a tiney lace hook. See, there's elastic in the headband so it fits on easily. Feel free to try them on, I have a mirror right here. ... Oh yes, the blue one looks very good, it brings out the color in your eyes. Do you wear blue often?"

    I love it when people say "your produce smells so wonderful!" Some people will just come over and meditate over the dill for a while. :)

    Thanks for the prompt, writing this was great!